Happy new year! I have had to skip a large amount of stuff that I accumulated during my off time, but rest assured, I've still got plenty to keep me busy, so here's a grab bag if ever there was one. . .
John's last record before his death and a goodie, at that. Seems to feature a little more in the effects and pedals department than what was normal for him, which is just fine with me. There is a quiet, restrained air to the proceedings here. John plays a Tele at a couple points, which is just fun. The looming melancholy that hangs over this stuff is just ace and, after a few plays, one gets the impression that John maybe knew it would be his final statement. The longer pieces, especially, play off of a happy/sad vibe. It sounds wholly unique, even within his catalogue. There's just these huge, dissonantly beautiful chords all over it that don't quite fit in with your average Fahey album. Perhaps the most Fahey-esque song is the bouncy 'Charley Bradley's Ten sixty-six Blues', but even that one takes a left turn at one point. There's nothing else quite like it in the Fahey discography; not that I've heard it all anyway (I'm not going to sit here and pretend I know his entire output, because it's just too big). Key tracks: the opening number 'Remember' and the long and building suspenseful number 'Ananaias.'
Dieter Moebius and Gerb Beerbohm (1983)
A dark and intense journey into an early style of what can only be dubbed downtempo at this point. Dieter Moebius is of course famous from his work with Brian Eno, but more importantly with Cluster. The sequenced beats and dissonant synth riffs and archaic drum machines sound very of their time, but music of this sort can now clearly be seen as the proper grandfather to acts like Aphex Twin or Boards of Canada. Awesome, groundbreaking Kraut rock sidebar, basically. Not much here for tunes, but if you can ignore that and focus on the sheer groundbreaking quality of the music, it's an easily enjoyable record. Otherwise, I'd say, it's a very experimental work. Any album with a twenty minute plus dark disco groove like 'Doppelschnitt' has to be somewhere in that vein. Key tracks: the previously mentioned closer 'Doppelschnitt' and the opener (and perfectly dark sci-fi soundtrack) 'Minimotion.'
Tears for Fears — The Seeds of Love (1989)
It took these guys four years to come up with something that they thought could complete commercially with the Big Chair, but the core group of Curt Smith and Roland Orzabal basically fell apart under the pressure. It's not a wash, by any means. It's simply overproduced and pompous as hell, but boy does it sound nice. The production, while definitely super dated and heavy handed by this point, is the album's gift and its curse. Because while it can dress up otherwise b and c-list material to sound like top tier output, it does get in the way on the actually great songs. I think the Big Chair was overproduced in just the right way, where it brought out everything good that the songs had and put it on display without teetering off into unnecessary layers for the sake of having them. This album does that a lot. With the forced sounding jazz flourishes, unnecessary lead guitar riffs and downright cheesy background vocals, it does make it a bit offputting at first. The title track gets it right. Like, really really right. That's the one tune where it doesn't matter: they could have put a farting synth sound in one of the middle eight breaks and it would still be a triumph (oh wait! They actually DID do that!). There's some other good 'choons and I have a hard time wondering why I waited to get this album for so long. It's definitely the bigger, more grandiose follow up to Big Chair. Not nearly as good, but darn worth sitting through. Key tracks: the epic title track, 'Advice for the Young at Heart' and the perfectly melodramatic 'Swords and Knives.'
Fontanelle — Vitamin F (2012)
There's a strong case to be made here for plagiarism, but no direct riffs were copped and no one else plays as tight as this, so I'll happily let it slide. This Portland sextet plays electric Miles-inspired funk of the type that will either win you over immediately or piss you off endlessly. I, for one, see a lot of people namecheck electric Miles as an influence and then go on to play whatever it is that they play (which sounds, of course, nothing like Bitches Brew or Big Fun). The sound is so well emulated that you can probably pinpoint exactly which Miles tune they were trying to riff on for each tune here. I don't hear anyone else doing this type of music this well these days, so as an electric Miles lover, I have absolutely no objections. There is perhaps a bit more structure overall than proper electric Miles, allowing for less solo time, but that vibe is just undeniable. Key tracks: opener 'Watermelon Hands', the On the Corner-aping title track and the thoughtful closer 'Reassimilated' (perhaps the one time on the record where influence blossoms into something new).
Loka — Fire Shepherds (2006)
In a similar sort of vein, these blokes get funky and spacey, but they're able to throw a lot more of their own personality into the mix. There's use of a full woodwind and string section, making this a decidedly more European slant on the whole thing. This one's on the Ninja Tune label to give you a better idea of what's happening. Still, funky funky riffs and backbeats that would have made Miles proud. A lot of heart and thought in the playing, and again, it's not strictly jazz, as there is room for very few solos. So, yeah, cool stuff. Key tracks: the ballad 'Beginningless' and the opener 'Safe Self Tester.'
Much more to come.